Report: Canucks sign Maine defenseman Ben Hutton to entry-level contract

The Vancouver Canucks have lured promising NCAA defenseman Ben Hutton, 21, away from the college system and into the professional ranks, according to reports emanating from Portland, Maine., where Hutton plays – or played – his college hockey with the Black Bears.

The news for now has not been confirmed by a Vancouver reporter or the team, though the report itself comes from Whiteneigh Kinne of WCHS6, an NBC affiliate based in Portland. The news has been amplified by WCSH6 sportscaster Lee Goldberg, and SBN’s Jeff Cox has similarly picked it up.

Hutton is a left-handed shooting 6-foot-3 defenseman who has been enormously productive offensively during his time in the NCAA. His signing is a boon for the Canucks’ prospect pool and potentially the Utica Comets’ Calder Cup hopes.

Read on past the jump.

Let’s start with a look at Hutton’s contract status. It was reported this past weekend by Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province that the Canucks’ plan was to sign Hutton to an entry-level contract – it’ll be a three-year contract, based on Hutton’s age – that begins at the start of the 2015-16 regular league year. The play then is for the Canucks to do as the Philadelphia Flyers did with promising NCAA defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere last season and sign Hutton to an amateur tryout deal, which would see him report to Utica and be eligible to compete in the AHL playoffs.

Without seeing the official announcement, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not that’s in fact the sort of deal Hutton has signed. 

The other possibility is the Johnny Gaudreau route, in which the contract will begin immediately. Teams occasionally sign NCAA prospects to these sorts of deals in order to induce the player to forgo their senior year, which allows team to avoid the pratfall of CBA rule 8.6(c)(iv) – which is the article that the likes of Justin Schultz and Kevin Hayes have taken advantage of in the recent past in order to become unrestricted free agents.

Based on Botchford and Cox’s reporting, it would seem more likely that the Canucks and Hutton have opted to have the contract begin next league year. This is favourable for the Canucks on a variety of levels, both from an asset management perspective and because it allows Hutton to preserve his Calder Cup playoff eligibility. 

Moving on to the player himself, Hutton is a very intriguing prospect, in that he combines size and speed with excellent offensive abilities. His production in the NCAA has been more than intriguing, it’s been spectacular. From our Prospect Profile of Hutton this past summer:

15 goals is a hard thing to do if you’re a 20-year old D in the NCAA. Justin Schultz, a noted offensive dynamo in college, had 18 in his 20-year old season, while Torey Krug and Brendan Smith had 12 and 15 in their respective campaigns. Former Colorado Avalanche 2nd rounder Colby Cohen also tallied 14 times for Boston University when he was 20, and Preds 4th rounder Garrett Noonan scored 16 times in 2011-2012. Other than that, 15 G, 20-year old D are very few and far between.

Aside from being the only defenseman in the NCAA’s Hockey East to lead his team in goals, Hutton also added 14 assists on the year, giving him the Hockey East lead in total scoring by defensemen, and only 23-year old Trevor van Riemsdyk had a higher points per game.

Perhaps the most statistically impressive thing about Hutton’s season aren’t his lofty point totals, but his obscenely high shot rate. Josh Weissbock found that Hutton averaged 3.4 shots on goal per game this past season, which is a ton for any player, let alone a blueliner. To put 3.4 shots per game into perspective, only 16 skaters, none of whom are defenseman, averaged more shots on goal per game in the NHL last year.

This past season Hutton’s eye-popping offensive totals regressed somewhat, but he still managed an impressive nine goals and 21 points. Fortunately Hutton maintained a sky-high shot rate even as Maine’s team quality took a step back overall. Even highly regarded Dallas Stars prospect Devin Shore, a teammate of Hutton’s in Maine, also saw his offensive totals decline, so this shouldn’t be a major concern. 

If we exclude Frank Corrado and Adam Clendening and define “prospect” somewhat more narrowly, it’s clear that Hutton is now Vancouver’s top blue-line prospect. He’s a major addition, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can help the Comets make a Calder Cup playoff push in the coming months. 

Hutton is particularly dangerous on the power play, and you’ll notice that he scores a tonne of goals in this clip by jumping into the rush aggressively, or being set up very deep in the offensive zone on the power play:

  • Good news. Any word on whether the Canucks will be signing Patrick McNally and/or Jordan Subban? They both look like pretty good prospects and it would be a shame to see them out of the system.

  • Vanoxy

    I believe they are at 50 contracts already, so the Hutton signing might not be made official until they are able to dump a contract somehow. Possibly a buyout for Sestito.
    I’ prefer that over juggling tryout deals for the rest of the year in order to sneak him into Utica’s lineup, but I’m sure Gilman and Benning have some crafty way to maneuver it.

    I’m sure they will find a way to get Subban signed asap.

    It’s great that they are commiting so much effort to stock Utica up for this year. The prospects will benefit from a ling playoff run, even if the guys carrying the load are journeyman AHLers.

    • elvis15

      As mentioned in the article, the Hutton contract won’t likely start until next season so it has no impact on our 50 contract limit this season. They’ll have to be making space through the ranks of our D corps with Subban, McEneny and Cederholm coming out of Junior next year, as well as the new signing Sautner, so our contract space will likely be fine. There’s rumour of Andersson going back to Europe, we don’t know if Sanguinetti comes back, players like Blain (or AHL only contracts like Negrin, LaFranchise and Ehrhardt) might be moved, etc. Some of our NHL D could be let go or moved (Weber is likely not here next year, Tanev could even be moved if contract talks fall through).

      • Vanoxy

        If they can defer these contracts until next year then everything is great.
        Might make things interesting in the fall though, when contracts become actual pro deals instead of tryouts/delayed contracts.

        It’s a good position to be in, where we actually care about this stuff.
        In years past there was always a Sauve or White who could be jettisoned without an impact on the future. Nice to have a crop of prospects that we actually care about losing.

  • Larionov18

    Awesome signing.
    Man, it is starting to look good for our talent coming up. Adding Ashton Sautner, yesterday from Edmonton, makes a couple decent Defenceman , that did not cost us anything major. I am loving what Benning has done for our youth movement.

  • Vanoxy

    Very happy to read Hutton is now signed. The last information I read, McNally is considering returning to Harvard for one more year. This could change if he has a chance to turn pro.

    • Larionov18

      A chance to get a degree from Harvard should not be wasted. Becoming an NHL player is no guarantee for him and that degree will open doors for him to get a real job after hockey is over for him.

  • jung gun

    I’m potentially excited about Hutton, but not much yet. He still has to succeed in the AHL before I get stoked on him. Not gonna be hailing him as the PMD of our future until he puts up numbers like Clendening’s done, and even then there’s no guaranteed future success.

    I’m pretty stoked about this move for Utica’s sake at least, though. If we can stack the team with drafted players within the 20-26 range and supplement with a few vets, but only a few, I’m happy.

    At the least, I imagine Hutton’ll make it as a top pairing offensively minded AHL vet. Hopefully he surpasses that and makes his ceiling, which I figure to be a top-4 OFD.

    • jung gun

      Agreed, there are still some serious questions about him. I’m excited but nervous to see him if he gets the call to join Utica for the playoffs. His defensive game, by all accounts I’ve seen, needs work. It’ll be interesting to see how the jump is for him.

      I’ve watched him and as you can probably tell from the highlight videos, he’s great to watch. He has that PP QB type of movement that you love to see on the blue line – dragging the puck to the middle, finding lanes, etc. But true to the scouting reports, I think he makes his coach hold his breath at times when he’s in his own zone.

      So interested to see how he does with Utica.

  • jung gun

    Good news. Lots of upside in this guy. We have some solid prospects on D these days.

    I’m not sure if the Hutt is our top prospect. Benning was very excited about Pedan as well.

    Given all of the young forwards and some up and coming D, Benning might be making a lot of trades at the draft and over summer.

    • jung gun

      We have lots of nice prospects on D, but none that project has high-end, top pair guys. Some of them have that potential, sure, but no one that you would project as a 1 or a 2.

      Hutton, Subban, McNally, Pedan, Sautner, McEneny, Liberati.

      If two of those guys become useful NHLers, I think we have to be pretty damn happy with that.

      Gustav Forsling probably had the biggest upside out of any of our D prospects, considering what he is doing this year in the SHL at 18 years old.